Former Theatre Department head Doug Cook dies at 84

June 05, 2014

Douglas N. Cook, head of theatre at Penn State from 1970 to 1988, died on May 31 in San Diego, following a battle with stomach cancer. He was 84.

During his tenure at Penn State, he oversaw the evolution of University Theatre into the University Resident Theatre Company, which sponsored all department productions. He also served as producer of the Penn State Festival Theatre, a summer theatre festival that was ultimately reorganized as Pennsylvania Centre Stage. He headed Penn State’s film program when it was part of the Theatre Department from 1974 to 1987.

Cook was a longtime member of the artistic staff of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, serving as scenic designer, designer director and associate producer. He originally joined the staff in 1964, two years after the festival opened, and returned after he retired from Penn State in 1991 to serve as producing artistic director. Cook was instrumental in the design and construction of two of the festival’s main venues, the outdoor Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre and the Randall L. Jones Theatre. He retired from the festival in 2002.

Cook also wore many hats at Penn State, including producer of the "Wagon Train Show," which was commissioned by the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania to serve as the centerpiece of the Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage from the state of Washington to Pennsylvania. Under Cook’s leadership, the show was put together in barely a month and ultimately performed more than 2,000 times by five national companies.

Jerry James worked with Cook on the "Wagon Train Show" and recalled it was a “last-minute rescue operation” after another show presented to the National Bicentennial Commission received poor reviews.

“Getting the first company of the 'Wagon Train Show' on the road was like being shot out of a cannon with your tail on fire — and then things got REALLY difficult,” remembered James, who was the stage manager for one of the companies. “But if Doug Cook hadn’t produced that show, I might not have been married to Kathleen McGrath for the past 38 years, and for that, among many things, I bless his memory.”

According to Bruce Trinkley, professor emeritus of music at Penn State and composer of the "Wagon Train Show," Cook was a “genius” at theatre producing. “He knew how to put together a team of creative artists to work on a project, enabling and inspiring them to do their best. I saw him do this with the "Wagon Train Show," and dozens of time with Festival Theatre,” Trinkley said. “He was incredibly discerning in identifying and hiring talented directors, actors, singers and designers. He was also a joy to work with because he was such an intelligent and decent human being.”

In his academic career, Cook served as president of many of the country’s major theatrical associations, including the American Theatre Association, University/Resident Theatre Association and National Theatre Conference. He was co-founder of the Shakespeare Theatre Association.

Cook is survived by his wife, Joan, their son, Stephen, and two grandchildren.

Last Updated October 17, 2019